09/13/2007 11:00PM

Promising signs for foreign invaders

EmailNEW YORK - The victories by Doctor Dino and Alexander Tango at Belmont Park last Saturday bode well for European hopes in the Breeders' Cup and other big American turf races this fall season. Doctor Dino received a 120 from Timeform for his Man o' War Stakes win, a rating that ranks him 53rd on their list of older European horses. Alexander Tango's 114 rating for winning the Garden City makes her the 10th leading 3-year-old filly in Europe.

Better older horses, like middle-distance types Manduro and Dylan Thomas, or milers Ramonti and George Washington; superior 3-year-olds Authorized and Zambezi Sun; distaffers Peeping Fawn and Mandesha; and sprinters like Benbaun, plus Hong Kong champion Viva Pataca are all at least a cut above Doctor Dino and Alexander Tango. The best American turf performers would have their hands full with any of them, should they choose to travel to these shores.

Turkish delights

Before Turkey's currency was revalued in 2005, it took about

60 gazillion Turkish lira to buy a single dollar. With Turkey's economy gobbling away happily of late, the Turkish Jockey Club proudly sponsored its first million-dollar race last Sunday at Veliefendi Racecourse in Istanbul. Priced at $1,020,000, the one-mile Topkapi Trophy, a Turkish Group 2 mile, was won by the locally trained Sabirli. A 6-year-old Turkish-bred son of 1991 Kentucky Derby winner Strike the Gold, he defeated his archrival, the Irish-bred, Turkish-trained mare Ribella, by a length. They had a pair of pretty good Europeans behind in third-place Trip to the Moon, a French-trained filly who had been fifth in Darjina's Group 1 Prix d'Astarte last time, and Godolphin's fourth-place Caradak, winner last October of the Group 1 Prix de la Foret.

The Veliefendi undercard featured the 1 1/2-mile Bosphorus Cup, a Turkish Group 2 worth $680,000. Europeans claimed the first three places, with the German-trained Bussoni, winner of the Group 2 Prix Maurice de Nieuil last time at Longchamp, besting the British-trained Pressing. Godolphin's Groupo1 winner Laverock was third. Tiramisu, owned and trained like Ribella by Selman Tasbek, salvaged fourth for the home team.

New Zealand will run its first million-dollar race, the 1 1/4-mile, 40-yard Kelt Capital Stakes worth $1.4omillion, at Hastings on Oct. 6. This past Friday at the Curragh, a pair of juvenile restricted races, the Goffs Million and the Goffs Fillies Million, both went for $2.2 million, and on Saturday, the classic St. Leger Stakes was worth $1 million for the first time in its 232-year history. We may be entering an era in which a race worth less than $1 million may no longer be worth crossing borders for.

A longer way to go?

A comparison of the average distances of the races run at the prestigious August meetings around the world reveals some interesting data.

A question persists: How can we develop top-class horses in America able to stay beyond a mile when the average distance of our races has dwindled to barely seven furlongs? Our breeding industry is certainly not going to produce horses that can stay 10 or 12 furlongs when most of the money devoted to our static purse structure is funneled into races shorter than a mile. For goodness sake, a glance at the chart might lead one to believe that what goes on at Del Mar is a completely different sport from that at Clairefontaine, the meeting run up the street from Deauville.

In France, they are in a conundrum for exactly the opposite reason. As can be seen from the chart, staying at least 1 1/8 miles is essential there. Yet the French breeding industry is in a near panic. At the conclusion of the recent Deauville meeting, 100 French breeders declared their industry to be in a "state of crisis." Decrying the lack of top-class stallions standing in France, they noted that only 40 percent of the sires in Deauville's August yearling sale stand in France. Even worse, only 25 percent of the yearlings in the catalog were bred in France.

Part of the problem is the power of the commercial bloodstock market and its emphasis on speed, a bias that has led to the situation in America, where we see sprinters and milers routinely tried at nine or 10 furlongs. Here's hoping French breeders stick to their traditional guns and continue to inject stamina into the makeup of the French Thoroughbred. If they do, it will benefit the sport in the long run.

Veterinarian banking

Who has benefited most from the legalization of race-day medication in the United States? Is it the owners, who see their horses run more frequently? The trainers, whose job is made easier by not having to rely merely on oats, hay, water, and exercise to prepare their charges? The fans, who have the benefit of the bold-type LB designation in Daily Racing Form to alert them to horses which have been legally juiced up? Or the veterinarians, who, in pre-race-day medication days only got paid when a horse was sick or injured, but now pick up a check virtually every time a horse is entered to run?

Maiden special what?

How much longer will we persist in using the vestigial term maiden special weight? It is left over from the old days when some maiden races really were run at special weights, sometimes higher than usual, sometimes under allowance conditions with horses weighted higher for having placed in certain types of races.

There is nothing special anymore about any of the weights in these misnamed events. Let's start calling them what the rest of the world calls them and what they really are:

maiden races!